First Contact’ Writers Were Fired by Patrick Stewart – The Hollywood Reporter

For fans, there was a life before and a life after. Star Trek: first contact.

Twenty-five years ago, on November 22, 1996, the second movie with Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the rest of the Star Trek: The Next Generation The crew promised an action-packed adventure, pitting Starfleet officers against their most deadly adversary: ​​the Borg, a race of cybernetic beings hell-bent on going back in time to assimilate Earth at a vulnerable point in its history. Placing the stakes much higher was how Picard’s past trauma with the Borg threatened to get in the way of saving humanity’s future, as his experience of being assimilated by his collective turned into revenge.

Amid explosive space battles and tense scenarios with a new Enterprise Borgified, first-time feature director (and Next Generation actor) Jonathan Frakes gave fans a Star trek movie like no other; a riveting sci-fi action horror blockbuster that was only the second Emigrate film at the time to achieve cross-audience appeal outside of the main fanbase. (The first was the 1986 time travel game “save the whales” Star Trek IV: The Journey Home).

Two years before, the Next Generation the crew appeared on the big screen with 1994 Star Trek: Generations. While the Rick Berman-produced feature film was a financial success, its writers, Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, knew it came up short creatively. (Blame Paramount Pictures’ strict mandates for how they were able to braid William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and others Original series characters in the narrative). The writing team, especially Moore, wanted an opportunity not only to redeem themselves for that noble failure, but also to give the fans and this cast what they deserved: a true Next Generation film. One that could remain among the best in the franchise.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of First contact, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Moore about how that second chance came about, opening the curtain on some behind-the-scenes secrets, including an awkward showdown with Stewart over the script that ultimately resulted in the making of one of the best Emigrate movies ever.

And it all started with a phone call.

Generations was still in theaters when [then-Paramount studio head] Sherry Lansing called Rick [Berman] and he said, ‘Let’s do another one,’ “recalls Moore. “And when Rick came to us with that, we were really looking forward to getting back. There were no mandates or edicts as in Generations. It was simply, ‘What do you want to do?’ “

What Berman wanted to do was a story about time travel, and Braga wanted him to introduce the Borg. To give the Next GenerationIconic baddies a big screen update. During initial development, Moore and his writing partner devised a story outline that featured the crew of the Enterprise-E following the Borg back in time to the Renaissance era. “But that was quickly taken down because there was no way Patrick was going to go back to wearing tights,” Moore said. (Picard and the crew previously donned their skintight attire on the Next Generation episode “Qpid”, which featured the omnipotent Q in a Robin Hood-inspired story).

Production also bounced off some “pie in the sky” cast options for the role of Zefram Cochrane, the spiteful inventor of warp drive whose work was the target of the Borg. With Cochrane’s prototype warp ship damaged during the Borg attack, the crew of the Enterprise must help it achieve its first test flight to ensure the birth of the Federation and Star trek itself. The role eventually went to James Cromwell, but an Oscar winner Emigrate A fan was rumored to be competing for the role: Tom Hanks.

“It never got that far,” says Moore. “At that point in the process, there are many names on a wish list for many, many reasons. I’m sure his name floated somehow, but it was never really on the table. “

From there, Moore and Braga executed what Moore calls an “up, down” version of the story. They put Commander Riker (Frakes) on the Enterprise fighting the Borg and put Picard on the planet helping Cochrane. “We did at least a draft or two of that version, and I know Patrick wanted to be on the boat,” explains Moore. “Patrick had really enjoyed doing [TNG episode] “Starship Mine”, where he was alone on the Enterprise-D and running. And I think he openly referenced that in a way like, ‘I’d really like to be the one on the boat fighting the Borg, rather than on the surface.’ And Rick Berman relayed it to us, and I think Brannon and I said right away, ‘That’s better. That makes more sense.’ So we changed it. “

With Picard now on the Enterprise-E fighting the Borg alongside Cochrane’s very capable colleague Lilly (Alfre Woodard), Moore and Braga had to find a way to reestablish the Borg threat for the non-Borg.Emigrate fans, as well as doing so without overwhelming Trekkers who already knew his history with Picard. Years of writing exhibition scenes set inside the Enterprise-D observation room in TNG helped the writers write the script for another briefing room information dump, which occurred before the massive starship battle with a Borg cube that opens the film.

“Most of the time we had to refer to previous episodes in a story in Next Generation or backstories, we had to give short exposition pieces in those briefing room scenes, “says Moore. “So we had a kind of black belt in terms of explaining complicated things to the audience. There was a little checklist because you had to move around the table. Everyone had to participate and Picard is always at the center, making the final decision. Riker almost always has to say something that is not the correct course of action. Worf was saying something like, “We should shoot everyone” while complaining in a corner or something like that, and Data or Geordi have a theory that no one ever thought of. So we had to do a version of that with the scene in First contactGet that information very quickly, and it’s all about clarity. “

What would soon become clear to Moore during production, and then awkwardly, was when he and Braga found out they were being replaced as writers.

“There was a time when Patrick wanted to rewrite some scenes and pushed Rick to hire his own writer to do that,” recalls Moore. “Rick did it, and Brannon and I weren’t happy. I didn’t feel particularly aggrieved by that, but that didn’t work out. “

That writer’s pages were eventually discarded, and Moore and Braga returned, leading to an eventual meeting with Stewart.

“We were filming in Arizona, where [Cochrane’s] missile complex was for his [warp ship] the Phoenix, and I went on set with Brannon to see Patrick in his trailer. And there was a kind of tension coming in because this is the first time we’ve ever been in the same room together, since everything had passed, “says Moore.

The actor quickly addressed the awkwardness in the room, according to Moore, who recalls the following exchange in a near-perfect impersonation of Patrick Stewart: “I remember Patrick at first saying something like, ‘It’s good to see you. I hope we can all get over the things that have happened, and now let’s focus on work. ‘ And I took that in the spirit that was given to me: [He] he wants to get out of this, he won’t apologize directly, but it is apologize. And he was never spoken of again. So we move on. “

However, one thing the production was unable to move the studio forward was its rigid stance when it came to the visual effects budget, especially in regards to the scenes involving the aforementioned space battle, or any pieces. involving Picard, Data, and their gang of tense Starfleet officers exchanging phaser rifle fire with the Borg.

“You were just arguing; It wasn’t a creative conversation about what you needed for the movie or what the possible options are, “recalls Moore. “Paramount had its formula. They said that Star trek the movies just do is amount of money. So therefore you can only have is budget amount to do it. And, at the time, we were still, like on the TV show, counting shots with phase beam effects. It was simply: ‘Movies only do so much, we want so much profit.’

Paramount would prove to be very happy with its profit margins this time around, as Star Trek: first contact It opened at $ 30.7 million, on track to more than $ 90 million at the domestic box office ($ 190.5 million adjusted for inflation). A huge draw to the public at the time was one of the largest pieces in a Star trek Movie: A showdown with the Borg in the hull of the Enterprise, near and around the ship’s main deflector plate, featuring Picard, Worf, and the red-shirted Lieutenant Hawk (Neal McDonough). While the writers rarely came on stage during the series’ run, Moore was able to see this sequence being filmed.

“That was very good. However, it took a long time; all of this was prior to CGI and a lot of cable work, “says Moore.

But Moore’s most memorable moment on set was when he and Braga were extras during the scene where Picard lures the Borg into an old holodeck show based on one of the captain’s favorite black detective novels. Here, Picard kills a Borg drone with a Tommy pistol.

“We were filming at Union Station, in Los Angeles, and we were dressed [in costume] and in makeup, and I was there with my wife at the time; it was my anniversary gift to her, appearing as an extra in the movie, “says Moore. “[Frakes] He tells us, ‘I have a great scene for you. You’re going to be sitting at this table, we’re not filming yet, but it’s going to be great. ‘ We were there all fucking day, and it never happened. They never shot him. It was literally that we dressed up with nowhere to go. “

While Moore’s anniversary gift didn’t quite work out, his intentions to make a great Star trek the movie certainly did. Twenty-five years after its launch, Star Trek: first contact still ranks high on fan charts, often second only to Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. The film’s enduring legacy is not lost on the writer, who is very proud not only of what the filmmaking team accomplished, but also of how fans have responded to the film over the past quarter century.

“The movie just works,” says Moore. “I think audiences really get involved with the Picard story and Patrick’s performance, and seeing this payoff on the big screen for a chapter that started on the TV show.”

One of his best memories was opening night, when he and Braga rented a limo and went from theater to theater. Says Moore: “We stood in the back and watched the reactions of various audiences to different sections of the film. The parts that we smoothed, they all landed. They still do it “.

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